02-22-2018 Columns

What should you do with your tax refund? You may not get much of a thrill from filing your taxes, but the process becomes much more enjoyable if you’re expecting a refund. So, if one is headed your way, what should you do with the money? The answer depends somewhat on the size of the refund. For the 2017 tax year, the average refund is about $2,760 – not a fortune, but big enough to make an impact in your life. Suppose, for example, that you invested this amount in a tax-deferred vehicle, such as a traditional IRA, and then did not add another penny to it for 30 years. At the end of that time, assuming a hypothetical 7-percent annual rate of return, you’d have slightly more than $21,000 – not enough, by itself, to allow you to move to a Caribbean island, but still a nice addition to your retirement income. (You will need to pay taxes on your withdrawals eventually, unless the money was invested in a Roth IRA, in which case withdrawals are tax-free, provided you meet certain conditions.) Of course, you don’t have to wait 30 years before you see any benefits from your tax refund. If you did decide to put a $2,760 tax refund toward your IRA for 2018, you’d already have reached just over half the allowable contribution limit of $5,500. (If you’re 50 or older, the limit is $6,500.) By getting such a strong head start on funding your IRA for the year, you’ll give your money more time to grow. Also, if you’re going to “max out” on your IRA, your large initial payment will enable you to put in smaller monthly amounts than you might need to contribute otherwise. While using your refund to help fund your IRA is a good move, it’s not the only one you can make. Here are a few other possibilities: Pay down some debt. At some time or another, most of us probably feel we’re carrying too much debt. If you can use your tax refund to help reduce your monthly debt payments, you’ll improve your cash flow and possibly have more money available to invest for the future. Build an emergency fund. If you needed a new furnace or major car repair, or faced any other large, unexpected expense, how would you pay for it? If you did not have the cash readily available, you might be forced to dip into your long-term investments. To help avoid this problem, you could create an emergency fund containing three to six months’ worth of living expenses, with the money kept in a liquid, low-risk account. Your tax refund could help build your emergency fund. Look for other investment opportunities. If you have some gaps in your portfolio, or some opportunities to improve your overall diversification, you might want to use your tax refund to add some new investments. The more diversified your portfolio, the stronger your defense against market volatility that might primarily affect one particular asset class. (However, diversification, by itself, can’t protect against all losses or guarantee profits.) Clearly, a tax refund gives you a chance to improve your overall financial picture. So take your time, evaluate your options and use the money wisely. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

Preserving our Great Lakes This month, the Trump Administration released a proposed budget blueprint for the Fiscal Year 2019, which brought some good and bad news for our Great Lakes. Included in this budget blueprint is a reduction in spending to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a tool vital in the preservation of Lake Michigan. The health of our Great Lakes is of great importance and our priorities are clearly at odds with the administration on this issue. Rest assured, I will continue to fight for full funding of this critical program.

Preserving the beauty and the ecological integrity of the Great Lakes for future generations is important, but so are the economic ramifications to our region. Also included in this proposed budget is robust funding for the Great Lakes Navigation Operations and Maintenance. This funding is critical towards dredging, operations, and maintenance of the Benton Harbor/ St. Joseph Harbor and the Holland Harbor. Ensuring our harbors remain open and ready for business is essential to jobs and economic activity up-and-down Southwest Michigan. I’m pleased to see the president’s proposed budget blueprint includes funding for these important infrastructure projects. From good-paying local jobs and commercial shipping, to the positive impact on our recreation industry – our harbors must remain properly maintained.

Going forward, just like last year, I will work alongside colleagues on both sides of the aisle to promote, strengthen, and preserve our Great Lakes. To learn more about this and other important legislative issues, please visit my website: upton.house.gov or call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/ Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).

Providing needed resources for our veterans Michigan currently has 11 counties without a county veteran service officer. This can be due to scarcity of veterans in the area, lack of funding, or because the county partners with a neighboring county. There are others that are understaffed and lack adequate funding. Depending on the county, a Veteran Service Officer (VSO) may only be in a single location for a few hours each month. This is simply not acceptable. These are burdensome barriers for veterans looking for help with their benefits. I know local governments need help with funding to enhance the crucial services our veterans depend on. Earlier this month, I cosponsored legislation encouraging every county in Michigan to establish and maintain veteran service offices with an accredited county service officer through a new grant program. Accredited county VSOs are well-known throughout the communities they serve. VSOs assist veterans with more than just filing federal benefit claims. They often make referrals to local and state agencies while connecting veterans and their families to other resources. Under the plan, each county will receive $25,000 plus an additional amount based on the number of veterans in the county to establish and maintain a veteran service office. For counties to continue to receive the annual grant, they must have an established county veteran service office and meet benchmarks for staff performance and reporting while maintaining the previous year’s funding level. Michigan needs to increase locally provided veteran services. Even in rural areas, men and women who served our country deserve outstanding services close to home. These grants will not only provide funding to help counties without veteran service offices establish one, but also reinforces funding in counties with preexisting departments to help enhance and expand services. We must have accredited service officers present in every county to provide these critical services. As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office with any or concerns. You can reach me at 1-800-577-6212, via email at BethGriffin@house.mi.gov and on Facebook for RepBethGriffin.

Common cold prevention Each year in the United States, there are millions of cases of the common cold. Adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, and children have even more. Most people get colds in the winter and spring, but it is possible to get a cold any time of the year. Symptoms usually include sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, headaches and body aches. Most people recover within about 7-10 days. However, people with weakened immune systems, asthma, or respiratory conditions may develop serious illness, such as pneumonia. You can help reduce your risk of getting a cold: Wash your hands often with soap and water; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; stay away from people who are sick. If you have a cold, you should follow these tips to prevent spreading it to other people: Stay at home while you are sick and avoid close contact with others; cough and sneeze into a tissue then throw it away, or cough and sneeze into your upper shirt sleeve, completely covering your mouth and nose; wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. There is no cure for a cold. To feel better, you should get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter medicines may help ease symptoms but will not make your cold go away any faster. You should call your doctor if you or your child has a temperature higher than100.4°F or symptoms that last more than 10 days. To learn more, visit www.bchdmi.org or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bchdmi.

Driver responsibility fees to be eliminated Michigan’s driver responsibility fees (DRFs) are an unfair double penalty that makes it difficult for residents who have made a mistake to regain their license and get back to work. I was proud to support bipartisan legislation — that is now on its way to the governor’s desk to be signed — to finally eliminate these over-the-top fees and give relief to thousands of Michigan residents struggling to provide for their families. The eight-bill package would end the assessment of new DRFs and forgive any outstanding fees as of Oct. 1. The reform would also enable drivers who cannot pay their fees prior to Oct. 1 to get their license back immediately by paying off the DRFs through a workforce training program. These fees unfairly punish drivers for violations that have already been penalized. The result is that many Southwest Michigan residents lost their driver’s license — and often their job — because they could not afford to pay the fees. This has an enormous negative impact on working families and the ability of Michigan businesses to find available skilled workers. In addition to hurting workers and employers, the vast majority of the fees owed in Michigan will never be collected because low-income drivers will never be able to pay them. It is time to turn the page on this chapter of the Granholm era and help affected residents get back to work. This proactive solution was passed unanimously, and I look forward to seeing the governor sign the legislation into law — ending this punitive policy and providing relief and options to affected drivers. As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback on the important issues facing Michigan. You can contact me at 517-373-6960.